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Stand Up 2 Cancer Cites Progress

Yesterday afternoon, at the American Association for Cancer Research Meeting in Chicago, more than 150 people crowded a room to hear updates on research funded by Stand Up 2 Cancer (SU2C) and meet the new prostate cancer Dream Team.

Arnold Levine, Ph.D., professor of pediatrics and biochemistry at the UMDNJ-Robert Wood Johnson Medical School opened the event, attended by journalists and SU2C leaders and members.  According to Levine, $125 million has been committed to research by SU2C since their original broadcast in 2008.  Some 34 clinical trials were facilitated by this research. 

“Our dream team is to make everyone a survivor,” said Levine.

Actor Terrence Howard, who co-starred in the movie Iron Man and most recently in Red Tails, said his mother’s death from colon cancer at age 56 had a lasting impact on his family. “We’re all being held hostage to cancer, and we pay a ransom with each of our family members,” he said.

Roger Lo, M.D., Ph.D., from UCLA, gave an update on research into new treatments for melanoma aimed at making patient responses to targeted therapies more long-lived by blocking more than one “stop” in a cancer-promoting pathway.  He is investigating mutations in two genes – BRAF and MEK – as a way to overcome acquired drug resistance.

Johns Hopkins’ Stephen Baylin, M.D., Ph.D., presented updated data on epigenetic drugs being tested in lung and other cancers. A recent report in Cancer Cell describes how these drugs work. Some 62 patients have been treated with epigenetic drugs.  Three percent of them have had “robust responses to the epigenetic drugs alone,” according to Baylin.  Their surprise finding, he said, is “when these patients begin other therapies [after the initial epigenetic drugs], they experience more robust responses – about 21 percent of them.” Adding immunotherapy to epigenetic drugs may also raise the response rate, he said. 

Jean-Pierre Issa, M.D., from Temple University, a member of SU2C’s Epigenetics Dream Team, led by Baylin, is designing a clinical trial on an epigenetic drug that is paired with laboratory testing to find the “maximum laboratory toxicity” rather than standard measures of “maximum tolerated dose,” which may be too high for patients.   

SU2C’s new prostate cancer Dream Team, co-funded by the Prostate Cancer Foundation, will be led by Charles Sawyers, M.D., of the Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center and Arul M. Chinnaiyan, M.D., Ph.D., from the University of Michigan.  Their research will focus “precision therapy for advanced prostate cancer.”  They will define the mutational landscape of prostate cancer patients and direct those patients into clinical trials using combinations of drugs potentially linked to better response rates of tumors with the same genomic landscape.

Finally, yesterday’s event featured breast cancer patient Jeanette Daniel, who enrolled in an SU2C-funded clinical trial at Vanderbilt.  “Doing what you do is keeping me alive one day at a time…I believe in my lifetime, we will find the key and take this monster down,” she said.

Video including Johns Hopkins Kimmel Cancer Center director, Bill Nelson: